Age Of Apocalypse: Shifting Times
Author: Jenskott Summary: In an alternate AOA, Weapon-X never rescued to Jean Grey from the pens. That single fact changed the world.
Notes: I said I hoped this part took less time, didn't I? Sigh. My humblest apologies to my readers -including the one wrote me when I was away on holydays and without one computer at hand-, but real life got in the way. And besides I was unsure of how writing it. I wasn't satisfied with the first drafts, and if I don't like the text, I prefer no post it. Besides, there was other ideas tempting me, and I write faster when I get the picture clear in my head. Fine, I hope it was worth of the waiting, at least. And if someone is still reading me, please send e-mail me or write me two lines at the very least. Feedback motivates and encourages a lot when you write.
Disclaimer: Sadly they belong to Marvel Comics.
Feedback: To Very cherished and appreciated and beloved. However English isn't my native language, therefore forgive my very obvious mistakes. Still I'll thank polite advice.
Part 6. The Downfall of the Gods-
A tiny, flickering spark touched a glossy, translucent surface.
A golden ripple glided over the even, crystalline plane, cut with rhomboidal shape.
Light spread over the glass, a shard chiseled with perfect diamond shape. And on every edge it split in beams of thousand rainbow-colored streaks, filling the adjacent face with strias of another hue, flashing and flickering like blazes. Each side of the diamond vibrated and hummed with its own rhythm, everyone mingling in a strange song of primal and unearthly beauty. And on each square flashed a different timeline. Infinite possibilities of endless moments weaving the tapestry of the eternity.
Spikes of light jutted outwards from the core of the glass, shimmering with the entire range of shades of each color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The beams crossed with each other, crackling with electric sparks at each intersection, entwining in a gleaming energy sphere. Blinding glow pulsated within it, and with each quivering throbbing, with each thumping shudder of the glass, the globe grew and grew, ravenous of power, filling the vast chamber and bathing its edges with its holy light.
And contemplating the magnificence of that glorious brightness was a towering monster. The light played tricks on its monolith body and on his stone-like face, split by a smug smile lit up his greedy, soulless eyes. Quietly he watched the different events flashing on each streak of the shard, his mind dwelling on evil thoughts.
He spun around 180 degrees, pompously tossing backwards his crimson cloak as he gyrated, and faced to his long-time nemesis with his perpetual and sardonic grin of utter belief and trust in his superiority and invincibility. Magneto would have spat on his boots but he preferred keep intact his dignity.
Certainly his dignity had lived better days. But even now, dressed in a tight black suit, beaten mercilessly, with his face bloodied and his body bruised, kneeled -since his legs wouldn't hold his body- in front of his mortal foe, Erik denied to the bastard the satisfaction of giving up. Thus he kept his smoldering glare focused on Apocalypse, basking in his supply of hatred to lend him strength. He would rather fueling in his love by Rogue, but he wouldn't plead to Nur show her face to him again. He wouldn't give in one inch.
No one inch.
His flesh might be fragile and his limbs limp, but his spirit and his determination were unbreakable. Unyielding. Unwavering.
Apocalypse would NOT win this, with or without the glass. He would find a road to the victory. And although it was impossible, he wouldn't surrender. He owed it to Charles. To the world.
Besides, if Apocalypse had set up a trap to his X-Men, they needed him. He couldn't fail them again.
"The game belongs to who are better prepared, Magneto." Apocalypse voiced with his stupidly self-satisfied, mocking grin. Erik yearned for wiping it out his face. And wiping HIM in the process. He prayed to God for strength for standing up. "Hours ago my Madri forewarned me that glass would jeopardize centuries of work if I was such fool to permit your X-Men approached to him. Thing I am NOT."
"You could have fooled me." Erik sneered malevolently.
"SHUT UP!" Apocalypse roared, backhanding him. "You live permanently fooled, Magneto. Don't you understand yet? I WON! The world fits in my vision of him. And everything develops according to my will. Now and forever, since I was born in the Egyptian dunes and until the end of time, I AM-"
"Sir! Sir!" A double-headed man of ragged appearance burst into the chamber, almost stumbling on the threshold. His breath was shaky and uneven, and his half-naked torso was sweaty. Telltale signs of his haste and his panic. "The South Western kingdom... it doesn't exist! It has vanished! It isn't longer!"
"What?" Apocalypse glanced sideways, frowning in a grimace of puzzlement and disbelief very unusual in him. He was dumbfounded, an emotion he wasn't fond of feeling. He turned towards another of his minions, hoping settling that matter. A minor nuisance, he was sure. "Rex, what is he babbling about?"
"M-my Lord, it's true." His raven-haired informant stuttered in extreme nervousness. "The Council has managed throwing its bombs in North America. The whole West... is a radioactive crater right now!"
Magneto gagged, appalled in that monstrosity. "My God... millions of lives. What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
Apocalypse swiveled his eyes at him. His face was grimmer and darker than usual. And when he spoke, although the tone was disdainful, the words sounded raspy, like if he was chewing gravel. "The question rather is: What must we do now? Reply? Rex, deploy the defensive grid of the Atlantic Wall... Now!"
"But my Lord... The consequences..." The poor, fainthearted man shivered. Glacial cold chilled him to his bones.
"Everything is part of a grander scheme. Do it!" Apocalypse bellowed, losing his temper.
Too impatient -and sure of the fear he inspired upon- for checking if his servant rushed to oblige him, he focused his undivided attention on Magneto. His right fist clenched firmly, and flares of power gathered and coalesced among his fingers.
He opened his hand and aimed the fireball at Magneto. His face was darkened in murky shadows.
"Well, Magnus, I intended you lived enough for watching your dream to die, but seems I have no time for such indulgence-"
Of sudden, pain. A scream erupted out of his lips when something tough and sharp and intangible struck him. An unknown force clamped unseen tentacles around his frame and tossed him roughly backwards, almost with diffident scorn. His body rolled along the floor, until crashing on the opposite wall.
"You got that right, ugly." A voice reverberated from the shadows. A young voice loaded with wrath.
"Who... who are you?" Apocalypse grunted, panting while he extricated his mass out of the dented titanium. The brutal hit had winded him, his vision was blurry and he felt fairly dizzy. He didn't recall the last time he had received such hatred-boosted strength.
Shadows stirred and rippled. A figure stepped slowly out of the ebony blackness shrouding it as a protective and thick coat. A young boy. Barely an adult, daring to defy to En Sabah Nur.
"The nail on your coffin, Apocalypse. You take away me all who I loved." He mumbled gravely. No mood lit up his stern and gloomy grimace. "Time for returning you the favor."
Tendrils of slick darkness slipped out of him, and his body began to give off a golden light. A nimbus grew and blossomed in a flare of dazzling brightness. Air sizzled around him, and a gust of wind arose, gyrating around his body. The whirlwind dragged the blistering blazes, and a vortex took shape.
Magneto rose up laboriously. A magnetic pull snatched his narrow helmet. "Y-you are the mutant Forge promised hand over me someday."
Nate nodded quietly, even though he didn't know what was Magneto talking about. Neither he cared it. "Stay back, old man. This isn't your fight anymore."
Magneto fitted firmly his helmet, hiding his face in shadows. However his furious eyes, two swirling pools of fury, shone with cobalt electricity, and his jaws ground together with a scrapping noise. His lips let out a snarl. "Nonsense, boy. You have just bought some pretty seconds to the universe. We shall exploit them to the utmost... together."
Apocalypse and Holocaust regarded quizzically to the newcomer, a new player they utterly knew nothing about. How could they have passed by him?
To know how Nate had stormed into the upper level of the fortress, we need travel back in the time.
The old city's subways were an intricate network of tunnels interconnected with numberless stairs and passages, spread along miles beneath the skyscrapers of the city. When the upper levels were abandoned, the Morlocks established their dwelling down there, caring little for the loneliness and the lacking of light and warmth. Progressively, through the years, they dug new tunnels, burrows and pathways, clearing obstructed trails and building new halls.
But they were exterminated, and the subways abandoned altogether.
Now it was a labyrinth of murky passages, where the light was dim in the best of the cases. The floors were cracked and strewn with rubbish and rubble, and there were pools of muddy water everywhere, dripping of shattered gutters and leaks on the rock. The time and the neglect had corroded and eroded the stone and the concrete and rusted the metal, damaging badly the structure. In many places the ceiling had fallen in and the ground had caved in, blocking the tunnels with piles of boulders and debris, or holing them with gaping pits of bottomless blackness. In the areas still intact the walls were unstable and shuddered and quivered dangerously with each explosion rocked the world above.
In one of those ratholes, the boulders obstructing a road quaked silently. Gradually they rolled downwards, or flew out of the way, leaving a free pass without compromising the tunnel's stability.
A tide of haggard people walked through it, limping or crawling. Neither of them, not even the most badly injured, dared to do anything hindered or delayed the walk. They acted like if all the Devils of Hell were chasing them.
Scott, Jean and Betsy supervised the evacuation standing aside as the flow of people marched through the doorway cleared by Jean. While the hopeless souls walked, they watched attentively and conferred among low whispers.
"Are you fine, Jean? You look a tad worn out" Betsy wondered in concerning, regarding the pale and sweaty countenance of the redhead. She seemed practically drained.
"I-I'm fine. I'm exhausted of using my powers. That's all." Jean stammered.
Psylocke casting uneasy glances at her, worry shining on her pretty purple irises. Since the jailbreak, Marvel Girl and herself had spent their energies in destroying the Consortium, releasing the prisoners, lead them peacefully, and battling soldiers. Both of them were very tired, but Jean seemed about of fainting.
"It's normal you're tired. You've been fighting toughly for long. But we need your telekinesis for clearing the path on the securest and quickest way" Cyclops stated neutrally. "The walls are too punished for using my blasts, and removing manually the rocks would consume a time we can't afford of wasting."
Psylocke blinked. She had noticed a hint of concern underneath that layer of impassivity, but still... "That sounded incredibly aloof and callous, Summers." She snapped acidly, remembering his rash and frantic attitude when Jean was in danger.
"I'm very good turning off my human side in the job. Didn't you know?" He retorted dryly.
"Stop that meaningless argument." Jean seethed, caressing her bulged forehead. That pair was giving her such migraine. "This is the way. Right, Psylocke?"
"Right, Jean. And please... Call me Betsy." The British woman uttered softly, recalling how they had descended in the sewers and reached the subways afterwards. They had been lost without her down there. Cyclops remembered partially the Morlock tunnels, but Marrow had sketched a full map of the galleries, and her eidetic memory had recorded it. "Follow this passage, and you'll arrive to the Grand Hall. All passages converge in it. You can go at anywhere from there. I wish you luck."
"What do you mean 'you'? Aren't you coming along?" They inquired, puzzled.
"No." Betsy shook her head and sighed. Her hand stroked her indigo curls plaintively. "I've a feud to settle up with someone still. Besides, my task was help to the prisoners. Now you're taking care of them, I'm free for aiding to the X-Men. If I die, I choose perish with my friends, giving birth to a new world."
Before they inquired further about her words, whom real meaning they couldn't suspect, she whirled around and strode back to the pens. "If Magneto succeeds, and if all of us survive, maybe I'll see you around someday."
And so, she was gone.
While Betsy sprinted swiftly along the tunnel, well aware of this was the last time they saw at each other, she believed sensing something amiss for a split-second. Something familiar and eerie. Stray amidst the chaotic thoughts of the refugees. An odd compulsion, a brusque feeling of foreshadowing horror, clutched her. And she reconsidered her decision of leaving them alone.
She studied the rows of men and women, shuffling sluggishly along the narrow and low cavern as wandering wraiths. Her sharp and keen eyes scanned attentively the group, while her butterfly-like spirit probed random minds. She searched for anything amiss, a displaced detail, some hostile mind. Nothing.
Whatever or whoever was eluding her perfectly. Reluctantly she turned her back and ran out of there.
Shortly after of the Betsy's departure...
A gloom, threatening shadow cloaked temporarily the sun.
The sudden loss of light startled one of the misshapen soldiers of coriaceous bronze skin, big horned head and dwarfed body. He craned upwards his neck, intending spotting the possible intruder, and clicking the safety of his large cannon off. He saw dimly a dark figure looming above him, shaded with the sunlight that came from behind. The winged shadow gyrated in paused circles around the sky as a vulture locating a prey. The disturbing visitor gave off a fierce sensation of threat, and the mutant felt shudders coursing his spine.
The figure soared downwards slowly, nearing steadily until the guardian could make out his face. He exhaled a relieved sigh, and immediately felt a fool for frightening. It was the Angel. The golden-curls boy lived in his silver-bars cage dangling on the clouds, never daring to descend to Earth to soil his shoes or break his nails. He lowered his weapon disdainfully.
He missed the signs: the clothes muddy and tattered, the enraged grinding of jaw, the piercing light flashed murderingly on gleaming blue eyes. It wasn't a defenseless dove now but a rampaging hawk.
"What do you want now, pretty boy?" His partner barked impatiently, obviously not wanting wasting time with him. "Apocalypse doesn't welcome guests."
"You arrested to my worker, Karma. I'm going to see her." He stated with dooming voice. Drawn out his smiling mask of phony pleasantness, his face sported a frowning and grim glare, laden with writhing anger. But that sign was missed in them likewise.
"Screw you. You aren't allowed in-"
Warren propelled his body downwards, connecting a solid flying kick on the gnarled mutant's forehead. A sickening crunch burst when his skullbones fractured and the shards incrusted into the brain. The jailer gurgled faintly, hurling a gruesome blot of blood, and he crumpled on the floor.
"I wasn't requesting, troll!" Warren yelled. His body somersaulted onwards, and as his feet touched the land, his hand tossed a sharp-pointed object towards the second guardian. It struck his wrist, eliciting a pain squeal and forcing it to let go his weapon. Warren lunged hastily on him.
Frightened and cowed, the monster threw a tentative punch on Warren when he approached, connecting the jab on his midsection. His sturdy fingers crashed on a bulged surface of solid and round muscles rippling beneath the skin. The delicate bones split and he shrieked again.
Warren glared him balefully. "Did you seriously think your puny hits could affect me? I can lift up my own weight plus other person's, and fly at high speed a long distance. How strong do you think my muscles must be for pulling that?"
Swiftly his hands grabbed rudely his head. His fingers clenched tightly his throat, digging furrows on his hide and throttling his windpipe. Warren twisted the neck 180 degrees around, ripping it off his trunk as a corkscrew. The head popped out as a bottle's stopper.
Without paying attention to the obscene and sickening sound, Warren Worthington, the Archangel of the Death, never again the Avenging Angel, rushed to the contraption where a heap alarmingly equal to his friend was hooked in. The unfortunate girl was half buried beneath layers of thick machinery.
Warren untied slowly the straps, and winced, observing the battered and quivering Karma's form. She was a mess, riddled with bruises and smeared with blood. She wheezed shakily with faltering gasps, and her soft chest raised and lowered unsteadily, with great difficult. Her eyes were shut firmly, but she struggled for opening them when she sensed arms catching her and cradling her soothingly.
Her violet eyelashes fluttered, and she finally managed parting her eyelids. The dim light seemed hurt her, though, and Warren frowned, perusing attentively her blank look and her dilated pupils.
In that instant Warren knew she was going to die.
"W-Warren" Karma stuttered faintly. Her glazed eyes blinked wildly, trying focusing the blurry image in front of her. "I'm sorry" She coughed, feeling gradually weaker. "I've disappointed you... Despite of everything you taught me... about haggling and bargaining..." Another coughing fit. Red droplets stained his spotless white jacket. "I helped to Apocalypse... in exchange for nothing... free..."
Her frayed voice died away. Light on her squinted eyes dimmed until snuffing out. Her head dropped backwards and her body turned a numb corpse of slack muscles. Pretty soon her limbs would stiffen and her body heat would cool down. She had died.
A large hand caressed softly her forehead and closed her eyelids with extreme tenderness.
"No. No free. Never free" Warren denied savagely, grimly. Inwardly another piece of him had wilted and died. Then he allowed himself mourning and grieving. His body shook compulsorily, rage and sorrow overtaking his mind. His wings unfolded rose behind him as two looming judges flanking him. "There always is a prize. And Apocalypse will pay dearly."
"Interesting theory. Therefore what would be your payment, Warren?"
The sudden voice started him, but the winged mutant didn't show outward signs of it. He remained quiet, kneeled on the floor and leaned onward. A slender shadow stalked towards him.
Something long and sharp and glowing laid on his shoulder, grazing slightly his neck. Smoldering eyes glared him from behind. He didn't turn around.
"Well? What do you think that must be your deserved reward?"
The tone was more biting than the sword resting along his neck. "I... It was my fault you were arrested by them. You went in the citadel to see me and exchange information, and they caught you. And I didn't help you despite of our deal. I'm too coward, always standing in the sidelines to stay alive."
"Yes, but watching your subordinate here, I shouldn't feel me singled out. You kept barely afloat, but although you didn't sink, didn't reach the shore either. Answer my question, Warren."
"My prize was seeing my friends dead cause of my inaction. And... Do whatever you want, Betsy."
A heavy sigh. The pressure upon his shoulder loosened.
"The soul is the core of a person, Warren. My power enables me see them and destroy them. Nevertheless how can I destroy a soul when there's nothing left of it? You sold yours long ago. And there isn't anything worse than that. I'm not going to do anything, Warren. You committed my revenge on my behalf." She stepped around and crouched in front of him. A hand stroked softly his cheek. Warren blinked with that unexpected gentleness. "Clueless fool. You believed you could remain neutral, cutting yourself off your humanity, and ignoring what was happening around, didn't you? You committed a major mistake. You don't posses the required temper, cold and ruthless. You cared for things, persons. And now they're gone forever, and you can't go back. You have drowned at last."
Warren looked away. His face darkened, his expression downcast. Betsy knew she couldn't be really angry. He tormented rather on his own. It would be tantamount to pour a water bucket in a lake.
"Still I can do a last thing." He whispered darkly. That raspy, throaty tone would bring about shudders upon who regarded him like a coward. "Apocalypse considers he's safe. After all, nobody can touch him in the sanctity of his stronghold. I'd love prove him how wrong he's in that matter particular. And in everything in general."
A dagger-like blaze flared on the Psylocke's backhand, and she gazed the jagged edge quietly. The purple, sparkling glow cast a very eerie light on his gorgeous face, inexpressive as a stone, and she let it danced ghostly on his unreadable features. "It sounds as a plan to me."
A sudden updraft whipped her with unexpected violence, threatening drag her. Betsy flinched and clung more tightly to her carrier. The winds howling and rushing across those heights were wild tentacles of hurricane, shifting, twisting and whirling continuously. She was winded and frozen with that blood-chilling gale, but she didn't relinquish her hold, self-conscious of the distance separating her from the ground. Fortunately she had spent in the air the most part of the time since this final craziness began, and she had got used to the finer points of riding on a flying object.
Besides, her current vehicle maneuvered with a lightness and dexterity utterly fabulous, skimming over the Tower with swift aerial loops. The way he glided among different drafts and sailed easily on whirlwinds matched a dolphin underwater. His feathers ruffled and twitched with each gust, and she supposed his wings felt the way the wind shifted, since he rotated and twisted even before a swirl blew.
How he could maneuver like that dragging so much weight was beyond her. Betsy had sat astride on his back, and between her hands there was a knot linking two ropes tied around each wing. Several black packs were attached firmly to them. At the very least they should unbalance him, but...
"We've reached the border of the shield!" He screamed louder than the wind. "You can let go the bombs!"
"Right away!" She replied. Wrapping more tightly her pretty legs around his torso, she loosened the knot. Angel swooped over the curvy surface of the shield, and she released the ropes, shoving the weights downwards.
The alarmed warning came too late. With a lurch, the square bulges plummeted down as a waterfall of boulders. Abruptly a brusque and cold gale snatched them and rushed them upwards, at the barrier's peak, dangerously proximate to Angel and Psylocke.
Betsy gulped in fear, realizing of the bombs would burst too near from them because of that shift. She covered her face helplessly with the hands, and her sheer instinct raised a telekinetic shield, knowing it would be too meager and weak to shelter them from the explosives.
A roaring boom. Charring fire. Blistering heat. Blinding red light. A shockwave burst, spreading outwards, as far as the eyesight reached.
Betsy felt her ride wobbling up and down, while the heat whipped them and light hurt her eyes. However she didn't sense to both catapulted backwards, either flames searing her flesh and cooking it in a blackened charcoal.
She risked a peek among her fingers, and gasped. Her breath caught on her windpipe, she contemplated the last remnants of the barrier flickering and dissolving while Warren and herself remained untouched and unscathed.
But how? The defensive field was assembled to withstand a bombardment. Anything enough powerful to breach that shield was bound to tear in shreds any puny force barrier she was able of making.
A shadow, a blur of speed rushed past them. Betsy gasped in recognition of that silhouette.
I'm sorry, lady, but this is up to me She sensed that firm and reassuring voice intruding in her thoughts and jerked her head in acknowledgment. He had to have tugged them backwards and enveloped in a telekinetic cocoon, protecting them from the explosion.
"What in the Hell was that?" The startled and wheezing Warren's voice returned her to the reality. Betsy stalled while she dwelt on the situation. A new idea floated in her mind...
"Betsy, are you listening to me?" Warren called, confused. Why she had spaced out for seconds? "I was asking what we'll do now. Attack to Apocalypse openly or-?"
Betsy shook her head, denying that option. "No. I've thought of a better idea. Please, lead us towards that glass dome beneath us. I've got the premonition of our powers can be more effective over there."
Warren shrugged, and with a twitch of his wings he dashed downwards.
Rogue and her team stormed violently in the Tower's upper levels, battling against herds of soldiers each step of the way. After a long struggle, ascending a way spiraled upwards as a corkscrew, letting a trail of blood in their wake, they had reached her final destination. The X-Men stopped a few seconds to regain the breath and quiet down the thumping of their hearts. And just then was when they realized of the maelstrom hanging over theirs heads.
They were unsure of what thinking when Worthington shattered the dome of stained glasses framed by thick iron rafts, and landed into the chamber with a light flapping of his shimmering wings, carrying in his arms to Psylocke. A hail of shards dropped around, but he seemed unbothered for it.
The entire crowd started to whisper at each other questions about the Angel and his presence here and now. But in a normal, conversational and audible tone. They didn't give them really a damn if Worthington heard them or not, and certainly they'd often voiced and thrown personal opinions on his face. And Warren had hardly cared for what they said.
Rogue, being more direct, looked questioningly at Betsy, projecting mentally her questions.
Psylocke dismounted neatly off her personal Angel, and straightened to gaze at the leader with icy-blue eyes. "I've returned to America to warn you of the plans of the Council. We're in danger, although I can realize it's a pointless understatement actually."
She shook her head. "Look, it isn't important. He can help us now."
A contemptuous, derisive snort. Nightcrawler. Grimacing with spite plain on his darkened face. "What do you make think, Psylocke, we need, want or shall accept his help?"
Warren pinned on him a heated glare. "As much as I need, want or am interested in your appreciation, Kurt Wagner, I'm in no mood to deal with you. I've got a very bad day, and I'm not willing put up with you puny self-righteousness. All I want is stab at least once to Apocalypse before dying. So put your hypocrisy where the sun doesn't shine."
Nightcrawler narrowed dangerously his eyes, and his rapiers were unsheathed with a grating of steel against steel. Warren held his leer unyieldingly, and the situation could have degenerated quickly if Betsy hadn't jumped in between, putting up her hands in gesture of peace, but clenching a fist meaningfully.
"It's enough, both of you! We're at the end of the world and you can only argue!" She growled. "Warren, control your temper. Kurt, forget your pride. Apocalypse has found out Warren had been passing information to the Human Council, and several of his workers are jailed or dead. He has no reason to conserve his neutrality, and no desire of aligning himself with Nur. Armageddon is knocking on our door and we can't turn down allies out of arrogance, principle or disdain."
Silence answered her whole-hearted speech. Then the X-Men nodded slowly.
They could harbor doubts or reluctance, but they admitted grudgingly that she was right. However, that strained and uneasy pause came to an abrupt end when the roof arched above their heads exploded in a cloud of debris and iron rust, letting way to two figures fell down through the new gap. Their limbs were tightly entangled as they rotated in midair, wrestling unceasingly with unknown frenzy and fury. One of them was an unfamiliar boy. The other was the fearsome, golden beetle-like shape of Holocaust.
Thoroughly startled, Rogue took off, intending breaking up a fight she believed unbalanced and unfair, when a voice halted her on her tracks. A sweet, warm voice. Her heart nearly stopped beating.
"Your intervention is unnecessary, my beloved. Observe carefully."
Her head jerked around, staring longingly at the figure matching that tone. His eyes seemed haggard and his face a mess under the helmet's shadows, and she guessed his nose was broken and bleeding. His red and purple outfit was gone, substituted by black and fitting drags whose many tears hinted the wounds, lumps and scars zigzagging along his skin, as plow-made trenches. They had beaten him, smashed, flayed and bled, trying breaking his body to shatter his spirit. But he had finally won.
She had felt nearly dying when Holocaust gloated foolishly over his capture, but she needed being strong for him and their son, bottling up the inner anguish gnawing her, festering in her despair. And now she was seeing him, injured but alive... Elation overwhelmed her, and she prayed in thanks for first time in a long time.
She wanted to hug him, kiss him and sob on his shoulder. But this was an emergency. She cast a longing, loving smile at him and turned to both combatants, ready for saving the boy.
Her eyelids fluttered briskly, and her ogling eyes stared stunned the scene.
"Conceited kid!" The golden-armored warrior roared, jabbing brutally the Nathan's underbelly, emptying air out of his lungs. "What does you make think you are worthy of battling to my father?"
Nate disregarded his winded breath, and grabbed the exposed arm. With a swift and fluid circular motion, he heaved to Holocaust and threw him in the nearest wall. He was reeling still when Nate raised an arm. Brightness sizzled on his open palm, and one hundred energy spears stabbed and pierced his enemy. His golden armor was now cracked in a cobweb of tiny shatters and fissures. Flames poured out of them.
Before fainting in oblivion, Holocaust felt something heavy and oppressive and choking sitting on his chest and crushing it under its weight. It was the sheer, raw and undiluted hatred and loathing of the boy. A bonfire of bare rage produced ripples on the atmosphere around his leather-dressed body.
"Let's say I'm very well recommended." He growled, clenching spasmodically one fist. "Thanks for the warm-up, but it's time of going for the main dish. Loser."
He smirked faintly, and his glowing gaze swiveled briefly to Magneto. He bellowed. "Aren't you done yet, Magneto? We have a bastard to cream!"
"Wait, Nate" Magneto voiced back. "Give me one minute to organize my troops. And please, don't trying attacking on your own. We need working together and coordinate our efforts to triumph." Erik waited, hesitantly, until Nate moved up and down his head. Reassured of the boy wouldn't try anything stupid, he clasped her wife's hand with his fingers, and both floated down at the ground, where the X-Men were awaiting him anxiously.
He looked over the crowd, and his gaze shifted of pleased seeing to Illyana and Destine, to curious and somewhat troubled when he saw to Psylocke.
"Greetings, my X-Men. Before telling our next movement, I think I'm lacking of important pieces of information. What has happened in Eurasia, Elisabeth, to prompt the Council to bomb us? And where's Logan?"
Psylocke sighed. "We're running out of time, so I'll do it quick."
Her eyelids closed, as shutters insulating her from the physical world, and her mind hurled purple tendrils of energy that latched around each brain surrounding her, forging a link. Information rushed along the ties, as blood welling up along veins, and memories were shared.
Warren gasped, amazed, at the secret, crazy and desperate plot of the X-Men. The X-Men gasped, puzzled, in his dealings with the Eurasian. Betsy found out about the exploits of her friends in America, and they gaped with disbelief and dread at the Council plans and the Weapon-X role in them. Magneto saw to Summers and Jean beating the Elite and breaking free the prisoners and regretted not having planned something like that in advance. Everyone saw some scattered pieces, fragments, shards of the Bishop remembrances, glitches of a world weird but still more logical and brighter than theirs own, and each one drew their own conclusions.
Some things were left unsaid, or were censored by Psylocke. After all, there were things better left unsaid, she thought.
Nonetheless, Magneto took his own decision.
The Glass was sparkling and shining, like beckoning them. Or pleading them.
"I must acknowledge I wasn't expecting this" Jean mused fearfully, as her feet avoided stepping on loose stones.
In front of them, carved and holed in the innards of the ground, there was a giant amphitheater of rock, built through the years with much effort and sacrifice. Years of drilling the hardest stone as moles, of transporting blocks and boulders and chiseling them in tiles, bricks and ashlars, of turning lightless burrows in human dwellings... all that weight of blood and sweat and tears gleamed on each place where she laid her eyes on. This was the core of the Morlock galleries' network, with tunnels spreading for miles and miles.
But the structure was collapsed, perhaps by an earthquake, and now the bottom was a sea of dirt and debris with columns and rafts sticking out, and the arched galleries were crumbled and blocked with bricks and boulders. Jean felt a stark desolation gripping her with shivering fear as she observed the devastated remains of the hall, ever keeping a watchful eye on the fragile ceiling -each droplet dripping or dust film filtering started her-. She was watching her hopes of salvation shattered. The tunnels were their best escape route and now... They had never any chance.
"I'm not giving up." Scott stated harshly and savagely by her side. She glanced sideways at him, dumbfounded. Had she been leaking out? "Your telekinesis can sweep out of the way the largest boulders, and my beams can dig a way. I promised save this people and I'll do it or die trying it. And I'm not ready to die yet, so I've no choice but doing it."
"But the bombs-" She stammered hesitantly, recalling the nukes Psylocke had talked about.
"This site is deeper than an antinuclear shelter. And although the roof is very unstable, I'm counting in your telekinesis if it falls in due to the explosions."
Jean blinked, perplexed, and a warm smile split slowly her face. He could become the most anguished and saddest man on the world, but when he was determined to do something, NOTHING could sway him away his goal. He never surrendered, whatever were the odds. Moreover, when he was in danger his mind turned sharper, swifter, brighter. It was a one of the traits she sincerely admired and envied on him.
She was about of grinning and nodding resolutely, with renewed faith, when something flickered among the multitude, stirring her instincts in wakefulness.
Golden ripples of heat enveloped her, slamming her into a wall. Searing fire singed her uniform and licked her skin, and she shrieked painfully. Pointed pebbles hurt her side, where the burn itched unbearably. Blackness crept on the edges of her vision, clouded with moistness, as Scott rushed by her side frantically.
"Jean!" He cried desperately, kneeling, holding her hand, pleading her with his grief-stricken face. His reddened eyesight swiveled then to the crowd. "You!"
His voice was so overflowed, so laden with bare rage and hatred that she thanked no seeing what look glowed on his eyes. Her mind barely coped with the tempest of fury he was blistering with.
The formerly ordered rows of moaning and suffering prisoners were now a mayhem of people scattering and running aimlessly among screams, as a lonely figure stood out on the chaos. A tall and haughty person, darkened in concealing shadows, draped with a tattered cloak billowed on a blizzard of energy gathering. His clenched fists simmered with power begging being unleashed, and flares of light pouring out of his eyes lighted up the inside of his cowl. Jean berated to herself unceasingly for no having sensed him in time, and grimaced with the feeling of deadly hostility flowing from him and washing in waves over her.
A pang of hurt stabbed her, and she moaned piercingly. She felt the Scott's agitation, his concern for her, and a surge of loath matched his brother's for once.
"Did you seriously think I'd let you run away cheerfully to live happily ever after?" Havok growled with barely restrained fury. His hands were twitching, and the plasma was burning the air. An acrid and foul stench pervaded the tunnel. "I don't care what else happens, I don't care if the Apocalypse's reign falls today! You're dead."
That final statement sounded so hoarse and bleak and dead Jean felt chills.
On the surface, as the looming bombers soared over the city, and bombs began to drop, dissolving skyscrapers in ashes and people in charred charcoal, the hairy and short man had brought that destruction, wandered around, trying sensing a last hanging thread of a long-time dead link. He ignored the blinding light, the burning fire, the unholy shrieks, the stench to cooked flesh. He was ready to die for his sins, but he needed seeing her a last time to rest in peace.
Suddenly, he felt it. Some last strand of the link or pure instincts, he didn't know. But he felt something bad had happened to Jean. She was in hurt. In great hurt and in big danger.
"Jeannie" Weapon-X muttered. For first time in his lifetime, he felt fear.
A brutal explosion vibrated behind him. A burst of bright radiance and crackling electricity blinded him, before the ear-shattering noise and the wave of choking smoke enveloped him.
Apocalypse moved his body mass slowly, whirling around to face the figure of Magneto, standing alone in the gap of what once was a bulwark. A blue-grey nimbus of crispy energy surrounded him, as a cobalt nebula enveloping a black star. On the ground laid remnants of boulders and iron beams twisted and ripped off violently, blackened and shredded by an incredible strength.
"You have returned. And I considering you a coward" His voice rumbled nonchalantly.
"No, I'm the same like you. A genius. The fittest's survival." Magneto spat the word with acid scorn, like if it was viper's poison. With a lift of his hands metal plates and wires stirred and floated around him, as an asteroid belt. "You behave like if you were the first tyrant in discovering the concept and chancing the world's fate with that absurdity! When I was a child I heard that same sentence on the lips of a Viennese sign painter! A madman whom race tried finishing off with everything they considered filthy and impure!"
Steel warped and shifted, as fluid in his hands as water, and the alloys coiled and blended around his frame forging a red armor, very thick but light and very resistant. It fitted him as a second skin. "And do you remember who won the war he began? The weak ones who rose in indignant triumph to overthrow once and for all to the strong ones!"
Driven by fury beyond description, an unquenchable rage born of years of suffering, Erik streaked onwards, and before Apocalypse was able of reacting, his armored fist connected a crushing strike on his stony face, a crunching hit sent him sprawling backwards, his brain reeling inside his skull.
Apocalypse stumbled on the floor, but he was back on his feet before Erik was able of blinking. He looked up, and his murky grimace twisted in a grin. It wasn't a pleasant sight, and Magneto followed those lifeless eyes were as looking in a deep. And his pupils widened. Fear constricted his chest.
His little baby boy, in hands of Guido Carosella? Betray them -and the world- once wasn't enough to him?
"Were you telling anything, Magneto?" Apocalypse stated laconically. His booming laughter followed on.
And it was drowned by the sharp Guido's cry, a shriek of someone who is being turned inside out. His body gave off golden light that flowed in wisps upwards, as if it was being sucked in a vortex. Feeling his strength abandoning him, and his body changing in a blob of flesh his skeleton couldn't support, he kneeled. Behind him stood Rogue, clutching one merciless hand around his bald crown.
"I think Pocket-Lips was asking you a fair question, sugar. You should answer him" Angrily she wrenched her boy out of the trunk-like Guido's arms, now fragile as twigs. "Or even better, ask him why the omnipotent and immortal High Lord never agrees to a fair fight with you. Ask him why The One Will Survive needs always hostages. Ask him why The Strong One uses helpless kids to fight in his place!"
Rogue became more incensed with each word, and she remarked her last statement punching to Strong Guy, a hit hurled him through the opposite wall and catapulted him outside of The Tower. She didn't hear his prolonged scream as his body plummeted down in the void.
"Mom, why is daddy fighting?" Her son asked, seeing his father and Magneto exchanging brutal, crushing blows. She looked down to Charles, feeling suddenly very tired. She had stored her ire, pain, sorrow and hatred in that strike, unleashing her repressed feelings on Guido, and now that surge driving her had worn off, she sensed tiredness and elation.
"For us, my son. For all of us."
This fight was one of the most ferocious he could recall ever, Scott reflected disgustedly, as his head ducked, avoiding a blow fractured a concrete brick as sandstone. He reciprocated with a knee on the stomach gave him an opening to an uppercut on the jaw.
Alex emptied his lungs with other most powerful punch and Scott noted the stakes hadn't ever been so high on other fights either. Ignoring his oxygen lacking, he shoved his brother away with a double palm blow.
Alex staggered backwards until he fixed firmly his feet on the floor. He stepped forward, crunching little pebbles under his boots, and crouched as a feline. "At last, brother. Now, by the First Law, the Fittest's Survival, one of we must die. And like our powers nullify mutually, it'll be pretty funnier."
Alex lunged towards him, trying a ram, but Scott crouched down and planted solidly his boots. When his brother collided with him, Scott blocked it and immobilized him.
We're about of dying and the only thing he cares for is proving he's best, Scott pondered sadly. Why is he so driven and obsessed? How have we come to this? "It hasn't to be like this, Alex."
"Yes, it does. I wish you hadn't been born." Alex grunted, trying breaking the hold.
Scott sighed, fed-up, with a long-suffering face. "Yes, I know. I've been listening that phrase ever since I was four. Assume it already!"
Scott arched backwards his right fist, and with a staggering blow, hurled to Alex newly on the wall. His brother wobbled unsteadily as he tried standing up, but Scott swept his ankles off the floor with a roundhouse kick. Alex dropped violently, but he instantly cartwheeled away Scott. Once he was far from him, he straightened slowly. His stance was a tad groggy and slumped due to the hits.
Scott advanced slowly, looming over him, thinking already in ending this bout. "Give up, Alex. You have never beaten me in a fair fight. Never since we were children. Besides, this is pointless. Jean can't protect us of the bombardment thanks to you. Apparently we'll only be together in the death."
And Scott rushed towards him, ready to give the final blow. But Alex quickly sleeved up his outfit, showing a new-brand bracelet-like gadget, and pressed a button on it. The Scott's instincts screamed, and he willed sidestep, but he was too near, and in midair.
"Not even, Judas!" His brother screamed, shooting a stream of power, a discharge of ivory energy instead golden plasma. The blast struck head-on to Scott, taking him down. And he cried, for first time in his lifetime feeling his sibling's power harming him.
Alex rose up fully, staring at his brother sprawled down, with the molten gear and singed outfit showing his skin scorched, and smirked. An ugly and murky smile of satisfaction.
"At last!" He guffawed noisily "Since I've got memory, you've always got everything. But this victory is mine!"
"Then enjoy it. You have little time left." A grating voice sounded harshly behind him, cutting off his speech. Abruptly started, Alex whirled to face his owner, but he merely saw a glimpse of blackness before a rain of punches pummeled his body. He was still reeling, almost knocked out, when two hands grabbed fistfuls of his cape, hauled him, and with an incredible strength tossed him towards the wall.
Pain, flaring pain drilled his body, and his lips emitted a blood-curdling cry. Craning downwards his still neck with difficult, he glanced the jagged edge of a girder sticking out of his chest. Blood was welling out of the gruesome wound, staining his lower clothes with crimson. The image blurred and turned dimmer, and he screwed up his eyes. Besides of the blood loss, a vital organ had to be punctured or downright shredded.
He stared upwards, and despite of the red blotches dotting his vision, his eyes recognized numbly the figure striding sternly towards him. A midnight-black suit hid fully his body, no bulky but perfectly built and muscled. On that pitched blackness was drawn a bright-white spider, as well as two choleric and blank eyes on the mask. He was a Resistance member. One of the most vicious and most bloodthirsty. He was no mutant, but no Prelate had defeated him ever.
"This is for my Betty, bastard." He whispered with a dangerously low voice, before smashing brutally his face with a fist. Darkness enveloped to Alex.
Peter Parker watched his loathed enemy's head dangling limply, without feeling the slightest regret. Once upon a time, his own coldness had frightened him. Without dwelling on what war and loss and heartbreaking had changed him into, he spun around to face the man and the woman fallen. They'd been the best undercover allies of the Resistance. If he would have got here earlier...
Something cracked the ice beneath the mask, and he sobbed bitterly.
Air shifted and moaned and trembled, overloaded with crackling energy discharges and psionic spears slashing the space and exploding on the impact. Magneto and Nathan were unleashing their full powers on Apocalypse, hurling wave after wave of attacks. The exertion and the strain of using such energies with such potency without rest was utterly ignored when they saw their target backing down, unable of advancing down that raging storm.
"Come on, Nathan! Hit him with everything you get! Don't give him the slightest chance!" Magneto encouraged to his young ally, as he flung a tide of electromagnetic radiance.
"Slim chance of that, old man- Agggh!"
A screech of pain erupted out of his mouth, and Nate staggered forward. His fingers gripped his side as a vice, and he tilted his head backwards. Holocaust was towering over him, having just fired a barrage of blazes on his back.
"Very well, little brat. Now we shall battle until the end. Is it clear?" The Horseman roared, without hiding the resentment throbbing underneath the anger on his voice. His former humiliation was eating him alive.
"Crystal" Nate growled, and no wanting wasting time with him, lunged on Holocaust, brandishing the handiest weapon he got. The shard had stolen from Apocalypse minutes ago. The tiny glass sliced the thick armor as a knife the hot butter, and stabbed the monster's bowels. The Holocaust's screech was drowned down by the roaring of flares of iris energy seeped and streamed violently out of the glass, enveloping whoever was touching it.
And Holocaust and Nate simply vanished, like if the ground had split and swallowed both.
Erik wanted shouting in shocked fear, but Apocalypse was suddenly on him, circling his fragile neck with his bare broad hands, trying throttling him with frenzy. His knuckles were whitened with the effort.
Magneto wasn't sure of what emotion warped his ugly face. It might be mirth, fury or the frustration of seeing his plans shattered and swept by the fate. He didn't pay it attention, such like he didn't listen to his last taunts, mockeries to prod him to fight. Instead of that he took advantage of his proximity, and focused his power on his armor.
When sounded the first creak of the cracks fracturing his armor and spreading as a cobweb, Apocalypse had to have understood what was happening, because his face blanched, drained from color, and his claws loosened the vice grip. It was the first time Magneto had seen such fear on that face usually oozed evil. And the last time, because he whipped his arms backwards, and with a sickening noise of metal crunching and flesh rending, he split to Apocalypse in two halves.
En Sabah Nur had time to barely scream.
And then he was atop of his battered form, lighting up his bloodied and torn face with the blue flames crackling and dancing around his fists.
"You have been twenty years telling only survive the strong ones. Tell me it again, Apocalypse. Tell me how much strong and powerful and fit you are." He brought forward his fists as Apocalypse agonized, spitting blood amidst gurgles. Erik spun around, grossed by the picture, and stalked off, away of the corpse.
Mines were already exploding around, incinerating and razing his world to cinders, and the last thing his eyes wanted gazing at wasn't the Apocalypse's head, muddled with dirt and blood.
"We were the mightiest from our race, Apocalypse. Imagine what we had been on the same side. What world it might have been."
He needed meet with his wife and his son.
When he speared the Holocaust's underbelly with the glass, Nate was stunned from the reaction what he got. Perhaps was a chemical reaction to the Holocaust flares, perhaps to his psychic powers. Perhaps, only perhaps, destine. He didn't know. But suddenly he was in nowhere, and Holocaust, Magneto, Apocalypse, the Tower, had disappeared.
Now he was submerged into a ruby-red ocean, although he wasn't drowning. Only there was light everywhere, surrounding him. And despite of he was quiet his body was drifting slowly towards someplace. Maybe he was floating at the surface, although he saw no limits or borders. He did no motion to rush it. He should feel fear, but he only felt comfort and peace instead. Like if in somewhere of his mind he was aware of the war had ended.
Still he held a regret. Nate mourned not having known his parents. What would they think about him? They were good people? Or only two specimens Sinister exploited while he needed and after discarded quickly?
He closed his eyes, grieving for the lost chances. Then he reached for last time towards the mind of the woman he felt closest to himself. The person he knew was his mother. The link crossed the threshold between dimensions and touched her, hooking to her as he escaped out of that doomed world.
In the reality, Jean Grey was fainted, wheezing laboriously as Death approached to embrace her. Then her mind felt a presence clinging to her, dragging her. That force found an obstacle, though, and struggled against the power anchoring her. They wrestled and yanked, and excruciating pain stabbed her, as if her body was being cut asunder. Agonizingly, she latched on Scott, her mind clinging to his brain in turn. But then he was dragged too.
The Black Spider gasped in amazement when he saw to Summers and Grey writhing and stirring, like if they were in intense hurt, and the air humming and wavering, as if a sheen of hot vapor was floating. Then, with a screeching noise and a quake, a tear opened in midair, as a gash in the fabric of the reality. Summers and Grey were sucked in the hole with a strength defied description.
He ignored how he knew, but he intuited they were now safe and sound.
It was his last thought before the ceiling fell in, and blinding-ivory clarity flooded the world.
End of Part Six
I don't want this being the end, in fact. How I said, I intended continuing telling the Summers family's adventures in Earth 616 -Can a single timeline bear TWO Summers families?- but it can be a while. Please, tell me what you thought or what you would like seeing.